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Garden bird feeding predicts the structure of urban avian assemblages

Fuller, R.A., Warren, P.H., Armsworth, P.R., Barbosa, O. & Gaston, K.J. 2008. Garden bird feeding predicts the structure of urban avian assemblages. Diversity & Distributions, 14, 131–137.

Households across the developed world cumulatively spend many millions of dollars annually on feeding garden birds. While beneficial effects on avian assemblages are frequently claimed, the relationships between levels of garden bird feeding and local avian populations are unknown. Using data from a large UK city, we show that both avian species richness and abundance vary across different socioeconomic neighbourhood types. We examined whether patterns in bird feeding could explain this variation. The density of bird feeding stations across the urban environment was strongly positively related to avian abundance, after controlling for differences in habitat availability. This effect was almost exclusively driven by the abundance of those species known to utilize garden feeding stations frequently. In contrast, the density of feeding stations had no effect on avian species richness. We also examined variation in the proportion of households in different communities that provide food for birds, a factor that is not correlated with feeder density. The prevalence of bird feeding across different neighbourhoods declined as socioeconomic deprivation increased, and increased with avian species richness and abundance. Our results suggest that the provision of supplementary food for birds by multiple landowners across a city can impact the status of urban bird populations. The potential for harnessing these actions for conservation needs to be explored.

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